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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 140

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This is the grave of Thelonious Monk.

Born in 1917 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Monk’s family moved to New York in 1922, part of the Great Migration that took millions of African-Americans out of the South and to what they hoped were better opportunities in northern cities. He started playing the piano as a young boy and by the time he was a teenager, he was already finding work playing jazz. He became the house pianist at the jazz club Minton’s, which allowed him to meet everyone and jam with everyone. He made his first recording with Coleman Hawkins in 1944 and started making his own albums with Blue Note in 1947. There’s not much point in rehashing Monk’s career. Although he wrote relatively few compositions, he’s simply one of the greatest and most inventive musicians in American history. Moreover, few musicians remained as influential decades after their death. Let’s just watch the master:

As far as his albums go, I would recommend Monk’s Dream, Brilliant Corners, Live at Carnegie Hall (with John Coltrane), Straight No Chaser, and the Genius of Modern Music series. Not that you can really go wrong, especially with the live albums.

Monk’s mental illness ultimately undermined his later years and he pretty much disappeared from playing after the early 1970s. He spent his last years under the care of his eccentric patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who had previously taken care of Charlie Parker in his last days. He died of a stroke in 1982.

Thelonious Monk is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.

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